So, Part III. I was “empty of self” at this point, if that makes any sense. The “self” that ego I brought into the program had been dissected, much to my dismay. I was a shell. While taking the steps I began the process of introspection and all those parts of the “me” were forced into the open for a comprehensive, honest moral analysis. And in identifying my defects, I became aware certain “virtues” that could come to be if I dealt with my shortcomings. These were Spiritual assets, more parts of the whole, so to speak.
Dealing with my resentments, a main contender for the title in the heavyweight class, led me to understand the concept of forgiveness. I learned that I could forgive others for harms they caused. This doesn’t imply forgetfulness, though. I couldn’t forget pain or hurt as these are learning tools. The Promise of neither forgetting the past nor wishing to shut the door on it started to make sense.
Fear, the foundation of most defects, led me to a faith in God. As I began to accept God’s will in place of my will, there was little to fear anymore. This “let go and let God” stuff suddenly lifted a huge burden from my shoulders. These mundane AA phases actually make sense sometimes.
The realization of my part in events in my life led to the acceptance of personal responsibility. No more pity parties, no more blaming everyone else.
I came to recognize my defects included acts of omission as well as commission. What I failed to do was sometimes more serious that the things that I did. This was a real eye opener. I had always thought of faults as actions, not inactions.
The realization of my imperfections, my defects in their entirety, led me to comprehend what love was. I had known affection, but not love. I accepted the fact that I was an imperfect human being, and in doing so I learned to accept the imperfections of others. I first learned to love myself (a significant event, believe me) in spite of my imperfections. In doing so I learned for the first time how to love others, and to love them in spite of their imperfections.
With this knowledge of love came the ability to form meaningful relationships. And surprisingly, (to me, at least) I came to understand meaningful conflict resolution. No more running from a problem in a relationship. No more fear of rejection.
The list goes on, but you get the gist of what was happening here.
With these discoveries, this newfound realization of what good things could come into my life if I so chose, I came to understand happiness.
But I wasn’t done. After humbly (that damn word again!) asking God to remove all my shortcomings, I had to address the fact that I had harmed others. I couldn’t understand this virtue of forgiveness for others until I learned about forgiveness from others. So I dragged out that 4th step list and began another one, this time of people I had harmed. And lo! Along came willingness, a willingness to make amends to those on the list. Another piece of that elusive thing called spirituality.
This part of my spiritual journey came grudgingly. The list of people I had harmed was populated with a lot of “yeah buts”. I had to differentiate between harm caused to me and harm I caused others. The remnants of my pride started to surface. But I was forced to concentrate on “Keeping my side of the street clean.” (Heard that one before?) My sponsor, who I haven’t mentioned before, and who deserves all the credit for keeping me on the right path on this journey, kept pounding that little phrase into my skull.
Then came another post - doctoral degree in humility. I went to each person, if possible, to make amends, to ask for forgiveness. I was taught that I had to do this in a certain manner. I had to say “I apologize. It was my fault. I was wrong. What can I do to make it right?” I used those phrases in making all my amends, and I use them to this day. This 9th step is an ongoing process, however. Some amends I’ll never be able to make in person. In certain cases, such as my father, I read a letter over his grave. In others, I wrote a letter and then burned it. With some people it’s a matter of proper timing. The process continues.
Now it became a matter of walking the walk. I try and do a continuous moral inventory. When I’m wrong I promptly admit it. And I use the same format as I did in the 10th step when addressing each wrong. “I apologize, etc.” I’m not talking about losing an argument over the Yankee’s starting lineup in the 1959 season here. I’m talking about being wrong! And usually this type of wrong causes someone harm.
Somewhere along the way I had that “spiritual awakening” we talk about. My character, my personality changed. It’s funny that I didn’t notice it, either. Rather, it was brought to my attention. “You’ve changed. What’s going on?”
I’d like you to believe that this was an easy process, that I was one gung - ho son of a bitch doing the steps. But that’s bullshit. You can see the claw marks left in the concrete as my sponsor dragged me through them. And please don’t get the impression that I was a screaming success in doing any of this stuff. It’s progress, not perfection here. I’m an imperfect human. Remember?
And here comes the part that Patrick referred to - I have to milk this fucker for all it’s worth. Now that I had a spiritual awakening I have to perpetuate it, keep it alive, change the awakening into spirituality as a lifestyle.
I do that by staying in touch with God. I pray, but differently than before. Now, rather than pray for “stuff” or for good things to happen to me, I pray for guidance, understanding, acceptance, knowledge. Those things that will show me how I’m supposed to live my life.
And I listen to God. I meditate, receptive to His answers. Read Kushner’s book “Why Bad Things Happen to Good people” and you’ll meet my God. I think you’d like Him.
And now it’s practice, practice, practice. Those things I’ve learned along this journey? Now I try to practice them in my life. Not just my AA life, but my life life.
I try and carry the message. I speak before groups, I’m involved in a couple of home groups.
I work with other alcoholics, explaining how I did it, trying to guide them on the journey I took. And here I learned to accept disappointment, as few who walk in the doors are willing to thoroughly follow the path. It’s sad that so few end up getting it.
I work the steps regularly to keep myself honest.
There’s no diploma when you get to the 12th step because you never finish it. It doesn’t say we practice these principles in all our affairs for only 12 months. Spirituality is a way of life, not a term of office.
I live my life today as best I can; very imperfectly to be sure. But that’s ok. I think part of spirituality is the paradox that I can live a life of serenity and joy, all the while accepting my imperfections. As Kurtz said, I’m not ok and that all right.
Now let’s get back to the original question. What’s spirituality? I can’t explain it any more than I can explain what a rose smells like.
I like the Ignation concept of spirituality as a “way of proceeding”. That’s how I began to understand it as a journey. So I’m left with trying to explain my understanding of this elusive quality. I can do this best by recounting those things I came to understand during and as a result of this phenomenal journey. Think of this as an "As Joe sees it":
I learned to accept life for what it is, knowing that I can control only myself and not others.
The sun will still rise tomorrow whether I want it to or not. I keep this in mind in case I feel the urge to control things.
I don’t have to be right, nor do I have to attend every argument I’ve been invited to.
What you think of me doesn’t concern me. If what you thought of me was important, then I’d have to lead my life just to please you (and you and you and you).
I learned to forgive, but to not forget.
I learned to live in the present. I can’t change the past. If I try to forecast the future (project, I like to say) then my mind becomes a very dangerous neighborhood.
I learned to love. I learned to be loved.
I learned how to be gracious in accepting thanks or compliments from others. (Never could do that before.)
I learned happiness.
I have serenity and guard it jealously. You do not want to fuck with my serenity.
I say the Serenity Prayer a lot, seeking strength and wisdom. I need the strength to change in me what needs changing. That’s not always easy for me.
I need wisdom. I need to know what I can’t change, and to know what’s best left alone even if I could change it. Face it, there are things we can change other than ourselves, just not people. But to change just for the sake of being able to is never a good thing.
I’ve given up wanting “stuff’. I’m happy just having the things I need.
Sure, shit still happens. Life’s far from perfect. I still get angry. But I get over it rather than let it fester.
That committee in my head? They’re gone for the most part. Only one left is that little bit of ego I still hold on to. He’s pretty harmless these days unless I start getting that into that HALT bullshit.
I go through life doing the best I can. I’m human with all the warts and imperfections that come with being human.
I know this journey has no destination, no end. I’ll be on it as long as I live.
But best of all?
I’m content. Life is good.